Professor Harold Hill was a liar, but the people of River City loved him, believed his lies, particularly his biggest one.
Moments after he arrived in town, this central character in Meredith Willson’s beloved musical stage show and movie, “The Music Man,” shrewdly tapped into the anxieties of these Iowans and created a solution for them and a tidy income source for himself. He promised to lift them out of their humdrum lives by creating a marching band, a positive activity that would divert their sons from adolescent temptations.
Oh, it will be exciting. There will shiny brass instruments and uniforms, bright red, with a stripe down the pants leg.
A few doubters distrust this guy and pursue the truth, but for most of the story, the charismatic phony eludes them until the local librarian captures his heart.
There never was a band, except in the improbable ending of the fictional show, when one magically appears and the whole town joyfully marches down Main Street with it. River City has been transformed.
Near the end of the show, Hill is exposed as a fraud, and when a disillusioned boy confronts him, Hill says, “I always think there’s a band, kid.”
The similarities between the fictional Harold Hill and America’s former president are striking, but there’s an important difference. In the fictional story, River City folks eventually wise up to the spellbinder’s lies and realize that they’ve been had.
Those who have fallen under the spell of Donald Trump, however, still can’t bear the realization that they’ve been fooled by a spellbinder. Trump’s loyal followers respond differently to his exposure as an amoral liar than Meredith Willson’s River Citians would. The more intense one’s passion for and loyalty to Trump, the greater one’s potential for embarrassment for having stayed with him. So unbearable is this personal chagrin, one finds it far more comfortable to reject undeniable facts and attack any who dare to counter his lies with truth.
With force, if necessary.
So here we are today, a democratic republic with a proud history whose capitol its citizens are required to protect with high barriers, barbed wire, and heightened patrols. This to guard it against attack by other Americans who steadfastly continue to believe the spellbinder’s lies and can’t bear to admit that they’ve been deceived.
We have become a nation with some members of Congress who insist on bearing arms in the meeting chamber and freely speak of assassination of political opponents.
The spellbinder has created an army. It has plenty of weapons but no uniforms with a stripe down the side of the pants.
And there is no band.